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October 15, 2006

Verbal Commands for your Donkey

I've tried a lot of things with the donkeys I've trained. From my experience, I prefer to start by combining a verbal and physical (or non-verbal) cue when training. I don't know if it helps them more or helps me more, but they seem to catch on faster to some things, and it can help in translating the same action from the ground to the saddle or cart and visa-versa.

However, once they have learned a particular action or behavior, I reduce the amount that I use their verbal commands until they are almost entirely working off of other cues (seat, legs, reins, weight, body language).

The commands I use most often are:
come on: come to me
load up: get in the trailer
whoa (or ho): stop
back: back up
walk-on (or a tongue click): walk
walk (soothing drawn out tones): go from a faster gait to a walk (I never used to use this one until I started driving my lively donkey gelding, and a chirpy walk-on was to energetic to encourage him to slow down to a walk. This new command for slowing down to the walk worked wonders for him).
tur-ot (two syllable command) or kissing sound: trot
canter or "whep" sort of whistle sound: canter
walkie walkie: running walk (only for my gaited donkeys). My gaited donkeys have a walk, running walk, then a faster trot, and a canter, so I needed a different command when teaching them to differentiate between the trot and running walk. Later in their training, they are expected to be sensitive enough to my non-verbal cues that they can give me both on command, but it still comes in handy if I want to ask for the running walk from the ground.
over: turn or move over in one direction or the other depending on where leg pressure is applied or how seat and weight are positioned or reins are used. I use this for lateral movements - anything from turning on the haunches, turning on the forehand, sidepassing, turning in a larger arc, etc. But only as an aid if they are confused to help them realize I want a sideways motion instead of forward or backward motion. Once they have learned to listen to my seat, I rarely use this verbal command from the saddle or when driving.
lift: pick up your foot
hold it: stand still while I'm holding your foot (only if they are wiggling)
wait: don't eat now (either when resting on the trail, or when I'm serving hay at home or leading through a tempting grassy area)
okay: now you may eat
step up: take a step or two forward then stop. For instance when tied to the hitching post and pulling back on the tie, or when lined up in a pleasure driving class and you have just done the backup, and need to step back into line, but only a few steps so be prepared to stop soon.
touch along with snapping fingers or tapping object to touch: touch this object or hand with your nose. This is for my touch targeting game.
*donkeys name* Step it up! (in a chirpy tone): This is only used when I'm driving a team, and need the slower donkey to move up faster to catch up with their teammate, or in a turn where they are on the outside and need to move faster.
Where's your nose?: put your nose in the halter.
No!: reprimand for really bad behavior
uhn, uhn: (how is that spelled? lol) you better fix that, that's not what I asked for - gentle reminder that something's not right.

I can also see where "Gee" and "Haw" or other commands for left and right could be quite useful when driving donkeys.

Like I said, I mainly use these commands when starting their training as my donkeys seem to pick up verbal commands faster than some non-verbal signals. But as they become more aware of the non-verbal signals and their training level improves, I decrease or eliminate the use of the verbal command, and only use it when the donkey is for some reason highly distracted or seems to be having a brain cramp and or I need a quicker response now.

Some of the above commands only apply to driving, and some only to work on the ground. For instance I never allow my donkeys to graze while I'm riding them and we rarely ride where the grass is tall enough to reach without dropping their head down, so I don't have to use the "wait" command when I'm riding. But I definitely use it at every feeding. My donkeys are always tempted to slide in and start eating while I'm still fluffing their hay in the feeder, and I don't allow that. Usually a firm "Wait!" and or warning kick in the air are enough to convince them to stand back until mommy gives the "okay!" command.

I think those are pretty much all of the verbal commands that I use with mine. Verbal commands are no replacement for non-verbal cues, but sometimes can come in hand when first starting a donkey or in getting out of a pinch.

Of course I do a lot more talking than that to my donkeys when I'm visiting them or working around them (cleaning stalls, mending fences, etc), but I don't expect them to understand that chatter. I just talk to them so they'll know where I am and what I'm doing so they won't spook or kick out thinking I'm another donkey.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at 03:34 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2006

Packable Wagon

Have you ever wanted to drive a donkey team, but didn't know how to find a wagon small enough to fit in your trailer along with your donkeys?

I have a small wagon that I built on a wagon frame that I believe is about the same size as the Pioneer 1 ton frame.

My wagon is built more for show than to haul much weight. I needed a small 4-wheeled vehicle for my 14.2hh mammoth donkey team to pull at shows.

But I also needed the vehicle to be one that I could haul in/on my rig along with my donkey team. I have a 3-horse gooseneck trailer and a pickup truck to pull it. That doesn't allow room for any kind of 4-wheeled vehicle inside the trailer or truck bed at the same time that I'm hauling my donkey team.

I bought a small wagon frame for a 4x8 foot wagon, and had a friend weld a frame for the wagon bed, and uprights to attach it to the wagon gear below. Then I built wood sides for it.

We assembled it in such a way that I can unbolt the sides and seat bench, and lay them up in the gooseneck area of my trailer. I can then unbolt the wagon bed and we made brackets where I can fasten it onto the outside of my trailer.

The wagon gear unbolts and separates into two sections in the middle, so I can put both front and back axle sections in the bed of my truck in front of the gooseneck hitch. And I wrapped the tongue in lots of empty feed sacks (to keep it clean) and laid it on the floor along one wall inside the horse compartment in my trailer.

Because I needed the pieces to be lightweight enough that two people could put the wagon together and take it apart at shows, we weren't able to make it real heavy-duty. It was able to carry my sister and me just fine, but I wouldn't put any extra weight in it or use it on rough terrain without reinforcing it a little more, especially where the bed attaches to the wagon frame below. It needs a few more supports in the middle if I were to haul weight in the back of the wagon. Now that I've used it for a while, we'll probably make a few adjustments to strengthen it in a few places.

But it filled the need that I had... it just takes a while to put together and take apart when I put the fancy sides on it.

Here are a few photos of my wagon.

The donkey team pulling the wagon in training (without the side rails)Wagon01.jpg

Back of the finished wagon

Front of the finished wagon

The team driving in the donkey 2-up hitch class at Bishop Mule Days

How I carry the wagon bed on the side of my trailer (The wagon bed will also fit tied up against a wall inside the trailer, but for the long 11 hour drive to Bishop, CA, I wanted the extra inside space for other things.

I would like to adjust the way the doubletree attaches to the tongue and possibly get a longer tongue so that the doubletree is not so close to the front tires. It makes it a little tricky if you're trying to make a tight turn! But other than that, it's worked great for a little lightweight 4-wheeled vehicle for me to start my donkey team with.

The biggest thing is that you want to make sure however you build it, it is strong enough and sturdy enough for your team and the use you plan to put it through. And I also always check the bolts on a regular basis to make sure they are still tight.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at 08:48 AM | Comments (3)

October 05, 2006

Equine Dewormer

A good source with excellent prices!

I am needing to order some more paste dewormer for my donkeys, and thought I'd share a good source. I have been ordering my donkeys' dewormer from Country Supply. They have excellent prices and I have been very happy with their services!

Just as a sample...

Right now they have Ivermectin Paste Dewormer for only $2.99 a tube.

Their Pyrantel Pamoate Paste is only $3.19 per tube.

Safe-Guard Dewormer (Fenbendazole) is $5.90 per tube.

So when you get ready to order more dewormer, you might want to check Country Supply and see what kinds of good deals you can find!

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2006

Electric Fence Rope

And my experiences with it...

I haven't had a lot of experience with hot wire, but I thought I'd share what I found when putting up ours this summer. I bought a solar charger that is supposed to work for up to 10 miles of wire. It seems like that should be plenty big enough for my use, and we have plenty of sunshine here in Utah so that shouldn't be a problem. I only put the wire up as a single top strand of wire above my no-climb horse fence. The hot wire goes along the top (single strand) of the fence around 4 adjoining paddocks that total about 1 1/2 acres. It seems like it was somewhere around 2500 feet of wire total - less than 1/2 mile.

I originally put up the nifty new electric rope wire - 1/8" nylon rope with thin wire threads woven in. It looked cool, and was more visible than traditional solid wire, but I wasn't very happy with its performance! It worked ok for about the first month and then the resistance became so great that the current couldn't make it down the line (and I did check to make sure nothing was touching the line and shorting it out). I was only able to detect any charge with my fence meter about 300 feet down the line!

I tried a different charger - one that plugged into power instead of running off a solar panel & battery. It worked about the same as the solar charger. Both chargers had plenty of juice (all the way to the top of the meter when disconnected from the hot wire.

Not being an electrician, I hadn't thought about it ahead of time, but soon learned that larger gauge wire carries the current much easier (less resistance) than smaller gauge wire. So the 6 or so tiny wire threads in the rope weren’t able to carry anywhere near as much current as regular 14 gauge electric fence wire.

So I replaced all of the electric rope with 14-gauge wire, and it has been working beautifully ever since - for several months now!

I have read since then that the polywire and polytape require a certain kind of charger, but I just looked at the box for the A/C charger, and it says it is designed for all types of polywire, polytape and traditional wire. I don't have the solar charger packaging in front of me, but I believe it is the same.

Some people love their polywire and polytape electric fence wire, but from my limited experience it didn't work very well for me. I guess the wise thing to do is check around and find people who have been using theirs for a long while and are happy with it, then find out what brand of polywire and charger they have!

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2006

New Donkeys and the Family Dog

How do you train a new donkey to accept or tolerate your family dog?

Question from Reader:
A week and a half after bringing two donkeys home, the gelding started acting aggressively to my arthritic old lab. His behavior goes beyond warnings or fun chases. He has come close to stomping her as she lay still in the grass, minding her own business. She has never bothered the donkeys and is unable to move quickly. He will even pursue her while I'm leading her away by the collar. I know he was used to his former owner's dogs being underfoot. Is there any hope of stopping this behavior?

Most donkeys naturally seem to relate to dogs in the same way that they see coyotes, one of their enemies in the wild.

However, from what I've read most donkeys can learn to accept the family dog, although it may take a while. You might try shooing your gelding away when he acts aggressively toward your dog. Be firm with him and let me him know that you don't appreciate him acting like that toward your dog. You might read my article on donkey body language to get some ideas. Some of the actions are hard to describe without going into a lot of detail, but your gelding should understand donkey-like body language if you can learn how to act like the "boss donkey" around him. The article will give you some ideas of some of the body language I use around my donkeys. Watch how your donkeys posture toward each other and what kind of reactions they evoke in each other, then try your best to imitate them. They will understand that kind of body language the best.

You may need to keep your dog near you for a while when you have her out with the donkeys, but if you learn to use donkey body language to tell your gelding that you are herd boss and want him to go away and leave your dog along, it shouldn't take too long before he respects your space.

Our first donkey was a little BLM jennet that we got as a 2 1/2 yr old. We got her to be a guard donkey for our two pet sheep. Most days she got along just fine with the sheep, but every once in a while she would get a little irritable or fussy and start chasing the sheep. The sheep both had bells on them, so we could hear if they were running out in the paddock. If the jennet got into one of her irritable moods, I'd stand in the pasture and the sheep would come stand by me. The jennet learned that I would reprimand her and chase her a little ways off if she came and threatened the sheep while they were standing near me. She'd get all in a tizzy and run around the perimeter of the paddock. She'd lay back her ears, shake her head and kick out in the air. She'd even nip her own back leg to get herself more worked up, but she wouldn't dare come near me and the sheep while I was standing guard! Once she'd had a chance to settle down and get her temper-tantrum worked out, she'd be just fine again with the sheep.


I don't know if any of that will help with your dog, but these are some ideas you might try. I don't know how long it will take your new gelding to get used to your dog, but in the meantime if he respects you as herd boss and the fact that she is *your dog* and you are standing guard, maybe he will learn to leave her alone as long as she is with you. And eventually he will probably catch on that she belongs there and shouldn't be chased away.

Right now he is pretty new to your farm, so your dog is probably still quite a stranger in his mind.

Note: With regard to donkeys as sheep guardians, not all donkeys do well with sheep or goats. I would not trust most of the donkeys I've owned with sheep. Most of my donkeys are larger, more energetic mammoth donkeys. I choose them for that temperament because they make better show and performance donkeys, but they aren't good herd guardians for smaller livestock because their energetic temperament makes them a little too playful for the safety of the smaller stock. So please be careful when selecting donkeys to pasture with smaller livestock.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at 04:27 PM | Comments (0)